Racehorse sales scam exposed

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RACEHORSE dealers routinely defraud unwary buyers by colluding to drive up the price of thoroughbreds, the former champion jockey and trainer John Francome said yesterday.

Commenting on the first successful prosecution of a bloodstock agency in the High Court, he said sales fixing was widespread in the racing industry.

Racehorse owner Gary Heywood sued Newmarket-based Curragh Bloodstock Agency after he was prompted into buying a horse for twice its real value by collusive bidding between Paul Webber, then employed by the agency, and his friend Oliver Sherwood.

"I think it will certainly make a lot of people think," Mr Francome said. "I know that Paul Webber and Oliver Sherwood have been done for this, but they are far from being the only people guilty of this."

His comments were echoed by senior Racing Post columnist Alistair Down who said: "There are lots of alleged malpractices in the sales world. Perhaps this is a warning shot across the bows to clean up their act a bit."

Mr Heywood brought the case after learning that Webber, the bloodstock agent he had employed to advise him, was also an adviser to the seller. He had been unaware that Webber had bought the horse in Ireland a year earlier for 8,000 guineas on behalf of Jan Steinman, who was the seller in his case.

Judge William Crawford found that Sherwood agreed to bid against Webber and Mr Heywood paid 28,000 guineas for a four-year-old gelding worth no more than 14,000 guineas.

The judge ruled that no competent agent would have advised Mr Heywood to pay more than 14,000 guineas and that there was a conflict between Webber's duty to Mr Heywood and his interest in Mr Steinman's profit.